The Oregon State Police troopers who have been guarding the Mark O. Hatfield federal courthouse in downtown Portland have left the city as of Thursday, an OSP spokesperson confirmed.
“At this time we are inclined to move those resources back to counties where prosecution of criminal conduct is still a priority,” said OSP Capt. Timothy Fox, in an apparent jab at District Attorney Mike Schmidt’s recent announcement that he would be dropping a significant portion of the more than 500 protester cases brought over the course of the demonstrations.
The state police were brought in July 30 to protect the federal property for two weeks as part of a deal negotiated between Gov. Kate Brown and Vice President Mike Pence to get a surge of federal officers off Portland streets. The federal officers from U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the Federal Protective Service and U.S. Marshals were sent as part of President Trump’s executive order protecting statues and monuments in response to what the order called “criminal violence.”
They were largely seen as a provocation during nightly protests for racial justice in the city. The federal officers’ actions helped reinvigorate a protest movement which had dwindled in late June. By mid-July, thousands of people were gathering nightly downtown for demonstrations against the federal law enforcement presence. Those nights routinely ended in violence, with federal officers saturating downtown blocks with tear gas and impact munitions to disperse the largely nonviolent protesters.
“I think there’s absolutely no question that by having Oregonians there, it has made a substantial difference in what is happening in downtown Portland,” Brown said in press conference earlier this week, after demonstrations had again reduced in size. “And of course getting Trump’s troops off the streets of downtown Portland has substantially calmed things down.”
Brown said it’s important that the state turn its focus to addressing systemic racism in the criminal justice system, health care and education.
An official with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security who was not authorized to speak on the record said Oregon State Police played a critical role and improved the situation on the ground.
“The governor and Oregon police really delivered,” the official said. “We applaud what they did here, we’re disappointed that they’re pulling out. We’re all going to try and keep the momentum going that they started.”
The official said Portland Police will take over the role from OSP, which includes preventing an autonomous zone in the park blocks outside the federal courthouse.
The official said Customs and Border Protection officers are still in the area, if needed, but declined to provide specific numbers of officers and agents.
The sense of cautious optimism could be put to the test in coming days.
On Wednesday night, after nearly two weeks of mostly demonstrating elsewhere in the city, hundreds of protesters returned to the Multnomah County Justice Center and federal courthouse. After listening to people speak about systemic racism, protesters gathered in front of the federal courthouse. There were chants of “Black lives matter” and “no good cops in a racist system.” Some people set small fires on the street, and occasionally a protester would set off a firework.
Shortly before midnight, the Portland Police Bureau — with help from OSP — declared an unlawful assembly and dispersed the crowd. Officers used batons, smoke grenades and impact munitions as they pushed protesters west from downtown, shoving people to the ground who were moving too slowly. Some demonstrators threw fireworks, paint or objects at officers. Eventually, local law enforcement used tear gas to drive protesters away from downtown.
PPB did not immediately respond to requests for comment.